The most culturally impactful and disruptive ideas re-frame how people think about and experience services, brands and products. They create new demand.

These ideas solve an existing consumer problem. They take a fresh perspective and offer a solution that is new, culturally in-tune and innovative.

I first stumbled upon Parlor – a new mini spa for men and women on Polk Street shortly after moving to San Francisco. While interviewing and getting to know Michelle Clark, the owner and Creative Director behind Parlor this idea of disruption and re-framing resonated with me.

In a little over three months since Parlor opened its doors, it has piqued the interest of the creative set in San Francisco. It has had no shortage of visits from bloggers, stylists, photographers and designers who were drawn to and as intrigued by the space as I was.

Even in its infancy, Parlor is casting a new light on the concept of a day spa. It challenges our assumptions of what they should look like, whom they are for, and how we use them.

Read on to learn more.


The distinction between time for work and life is blurring. We work between living and live between working. Technology has accelerated this.

Culture demands that we use our time efficiently and effectively. As we strive to achieve this we will accept compromises on time but not on quality. Shorter moments of relaxation and time-out have become more pertinent and spontaneity is key to facilitating this.

And as the lines between work and life shift so too does the definition of success. It’s not about success at all costs. Being successful today means balancing it all: work, play and self-care. And it’s becoming as important for men as it is for women.

“I think people are highly aware of the corporate grind. But they are also highly aware that successful people balance it out and take care of themselves. Who do you know that is really successful doesn’t work out and that doesn’t take care of themselves?”

Despite Parlor’s tiny footprint (less than 1000sq ft.) the idea is big. The space stirs a curiosity in people and prompts a dialogue. Parlor offers a pared back spa menu at an accessible price point and with shorter treatment times. It’s aimed at both men and women and delivered in a contemporary and innovative space.

“I felt that there was an opportunity to create an environment where people can enjoy more regular pulses of relaxation. Moments of self-care…and that mixed with being in an environment that is less serious than a Zen Spa and more a place that feels good to just stop and relax. So that’s how the name Parlor came to be because it’s sort of a meeting place. It’s a place to converse and talk and meet and take care. It’s anywhere from beauty parlor, to massage parlor to a parlor in a home that you stop for a moment.”


The atmosphere is more akin to a bar or café than a traditional day spa. The tone and tempo are set when you first walk inside. A cozy space greets you at the entrance, a fireplace, a pair of inviting chairs and the gentle flicker of light from a burning candle. It’s warm, inviting and familiar. A long marble bar dominates the room creating a social focal point in the narrow space. Warm wooden stools invite you to take a seat. The clean white tiles of the back bar, the warmth of reclaimed wool and soft gray and white tones create a calming and welcoming space. Michelle herself often mingles behind the bar. It doesn’t feel like a spa. The space was intentionally designed to be ambiguous – she wanted the environment to challenge the social norms and transcend gender.

Michelle describes it as a ‘social lounge’. It is a space designed to encourage both planned and spontaneous treatments – walk-ins are welcomed. The atmosphere is calm, the treatments short and complimentary beverages are offered. Relaxation can come from as easily from quiet contemplation in the massage chairs upstairs as it can from engaging with other clients while sitting at the nail bar.


From a commercial and marketing perspective, Parlor re-frames how we access relaxation and who it’s for. It offers it up in a way that is culturally relevant. By focusing her efforts on creating an environment that is contemporary and gender neutral Michelle is encouraging a whole new set of customers; men and those who don’t want to give up hours of their weekend for pampering. In doing so Parlor creates new demand. It’s a smart strategy for a new service in a saturated market place.

I just feel like there is opportunity – this is happening right now, men are starting to take care of themselves too so why not create and environment which acknowledges that fact without people even knowing that it’s acknowledging it”


Michelle had been toying with the idea of creating her own business for years.   She was originally inspired by her personal experience at a local nail salon. Often a last minute dash, Michelle used to go to get her weekly manicure and top it off with a 20-minute chair massage in a dusty and dark corner of the shop. Sometimes she would buy a glass of wine from the bar next door to enjoy with manicure. It was a way to get some short respite from the corporate life.

The concept stacked up but her experience didn’t. Michelle knew that there could be a nicer environment and somewhere that didn’t require hours of her precious time on weekends.

“I was bogged in the grind of corporate life. I found a lot of pleasure in just going to my whole in the wall place and seeing a little dusty chair in the corner and getting a little chair massage after having my nails done and I started thinking – if I find so much relaxation out of something that is pretty simple, wouldn’t it be great to create an environment that is nice as you feel when you walk into spa but you don’t have the time to spend or the money that is required at a full service day spa?”

After twenty odd years in retail and visual merchandising and a lot of hard work Michelle decided to make her idea a reality. The timing was right. She was fortunate to benefit from the sale of a company she had worked hard for. Michelle exited the corporate world 18 months ago to start working on a project that had been brewing for almost six years.

Translating Parlor from a concept to reality hasn’t been without its difficulties. It has been a year of ups and downs, trial and error and forced her to draw on a lot of support along the way. Michelle wasn’t put off. She embraced the challenge and rolled up her sleeves.

One of the biggest difficulties was the transition from working with a highly collaborative and inspiring team in the corporate world to going it alone.

“While it’s nice doing something on your own, it’s really difficult not having a partner that has the yin and yang of what you have”

And as for most entrepreneurs, it has been a tremendous journey of growth and self-discovery. There have been days of frustration and despair and days of excitement and pride.

“From a business point of view, I think the most challenging [thing], is how do you quickly get the word out, gain awareness and take some of the positive feedback and energy that you get from the people that have come and experienced or given feedback. And be able to make something more of it”

Parlor has touched a nerve of the hardworking, ambitious and corporate demographic of San Francisco. It’s an inspiring space, a space to be and a space to spend time. It’s social, vibrant and energizing. It’s somewhere I find myself gravitating to spend time in, trying different treatments and catching up with its Maître D’ – Michelle.

“I am shocked at how often I am fortunate enough to have conversations with people that want to do something and that are inquisitive and inspired and want to know why I did this. The part that has been so cool, is how many people that want to connect on new ideas and starting something new”


The only difference between those who have ideas for businesses and those who have become entrepreneurs is their decision to start.

Michelle’s story is no different. After a year of mulling over her concept, writing business plans, scouring the expensive and highly competitive San Francisco real estate market, Parlor was born.

This is only the start of Michelle’s plans for Parlor. She is already looking for new spaces to open her next one. And she is determined to take the idea mobile. But interestingly, when I asked Michelle about the moment she felt airborne, she feels that she isn’t there yet. The truth is the moment of feeling airborne is different for everyone.

So what are you waiting for? What’s really holding you back?

The biggest decision is the one to start.

So go on, get started.

Photos credits; Parlor & Tory Putnam

Check out Parlor’s website to learn more.

If you find this story inspiring, the please share it with others by clicking on any one of the links below. Any thoughts or comments. I’d love to hear them.  More stories to come from my new city.


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Comments: (23)

  1. Great piece ! Inspiring as always!

  2. Inspiring blog Vivienne. I really enjoyed reading it, especially having had a pedicure which lasted. The experience was everything you wrote about. I Loved it.

  3. great piece!